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B.E.F. (MARTYN WARE) INTERVIEW [2011]

THIS INTERVIEW IS TO TALK ABOUT THE HEAVEN 17 AND B.E.F. SHOWS THAT ARE COMING UP AT THE ROUNDHOUSE. SO IF WE COULD START WITH BRITISH ELECTRIC FOUNDATION, FOR THE PURPOSES OF THIS SHOW, WHO IS B.E.F.?

It's me!

JUST YOU, ALL ON YOUR OWN?

Yeah, I'm afraid so. I'm on my own here, Glenn helps out from time to time, but he's not part of it, it's just out the goodness of his heart really!

SO IAN HASN'T COME BACK INTO THE FOLD FOR THIS PROJECT AT ALL?

No, I'm afraid not, he's out of the picture and that's just the way it is. It's alright though, it's not the end of the world. To be honest with you, Ian kind of left B.E.F. 25 years ago!

SO IS IT A HUGE UNDERTAKING DOING SOMETHING LIKE THIS ON YOUR OWN?

Oh my god! If only I'd have known… it was a classic thing really, you have a meeting with your agent, and after the success of our 'Penthouse & Pavement' tour he asked if I fancied doing a B.E.F. show and we discussed it being at The Roundhouse, and we talked about maybe doing a little Heaven 17 festival, maybe with 3-D sound. This must have been October last year...

BEFORE THE OTHER TOUR HAD EVEN HAPPENED THEN?

Yes, that's right! But like a million other ideas it just didn't go anywhere. Next thing we know, he's booked it and I'm going 'OK then!' and then the reality dawned on me as to how difficult it was going to be. If you imagine the number of artists we've got subdivided by the number of people that can actually get in to The Roundhouse and the price of the tickets - which is pretty reasonable, it's like £25 or so - you don't need to be a Sherlock Holmes to figure out there's not a lot of money. I mean, some of these artists could command… if they were doing a solo show at The Roundhouse, maybe £20,000 upwards, and we're asking them to do it for peanuts really, just because we hope they like the idea of it!

So that's the main thing that's taken so long, some people said yes immediately, and some people I had to work on for quite a while. Some people really wanted to do it but couldn't for various reasons including Damon Albarn and Siouxsie Sioux who both really wanted to do it but unfortunately weren't available at that time. But I think it just shows how much hard work has gone into it. Not just by myself by the way, our manager David Stanbury too, the two of us have done all this. We've had help from various people, but we have to run this as a 'charisma-powered' project! I've got some good contacts and good friends in the business and to be honest until, I think it was four days ago, we never discussed money with anyone. That is the absolute truth. Part of the lure is that I'm doing a new B.E.F. album and they're likely to be on that so there might be some other means of making a little bit of money, although this is a long way from being a money driven project!

WHEN WE LAST TALKED IT WAS ABOUT THE 'PENTHOUSE & PAVEMENT' TOUR AND IN THE COURSE OF THAT DISCUSSION YOU SAID YOU REJECTED THE WHOLE IDEA OF PLAYING LIVE AS HEAVEN 17 IN FAVOUR OF VIDEOS. WAS B.E.F. EVER SUPPOSED TO BE A LIVE PROJECT?

Not really no. In fact no, not at all, even more so than Heaven 17 in fact! It really was the brand name of our production company, and after about 1984 of my production arm, so from time to time when I thought the projects were worth it, I put it out, or managed to get some kind of credit for B.E.F. in there. So that kind of ties together my production history, it was mentioned on the Tina Turner project for instance and Erasure, I think, was done under that banner too. There was something about the kind of corporate whiff of the B.E.F. brand. It was meant to be an ironic take on it, but then it kind of did become quite corporate! Also I'm not really ever comfortable with being the kind of person who goes 'Hey, you're talking to Martyn Ware, don't ever forget that'. I don't talk about myself in the third person. I suppose it's a combination of confidence, and a Sheffield thing, it's not the 'done thing' to be shouting about yourself so it's much easier to be hiding behind a brand name.

HAS IT BEEN A PROBLEM FOR YOU IN THE PAST, THE NOT SHOUTING ABOUT YOURSELF?

Yeah, it has. Particularly in the sound-art world funnily enough, because they like the names of people because it really feels uncomfortable for the entire art world to have collaborative projects 'And who made this?', do you know what I mean? So many times I've said 'Well you know, it was made by Illustrious' and they're like 'No no no it has to be Martyn Ware and Vince Clarke', or in some cases just me. That's the way they like it… nobody's ever rung me up to do a production job and said 'is that the headquarters of the British Electric Foundation?'...

RIGHT. THEY'VE PHONE UP BECAUSE THEY WANT MARTYN WARE'S NAME ON IT!

Right. But that's not of my own doing. I'm not big on that, I don't even have my own website or anything.

THE REASON I WAS ASKING ABOUT PLAYING LIVE IS BECAUSE, AS FAR AS I CAN WORK OUT, YOU HAVEN'T EVER PLAYED LIVE AS B.E.F. APART FROM THE BILLY MACKENZIE TRIBUTE CONCERT A FEW YEARS AGO. THERE'S BEEN NOTHING ELSE APART FROM THAT?

Absolutely nothing, we've never even done a TV show as British Electric Foundation!

KIND OF AS LOW KEY AS IT CAN GET IN THOSE TERMS. SO, WHAT MADE YOU DO THE BILLY MACKENZIE THING IN THE FIRST PLACE?

Billy was kind of like a brother to us. We genuinely were close. Apart from the work I did with him, he gave Glen his first wicket. I saw him two weeks before he died and he was playing me hours and hours of his new material. He trusted me as a kind of mentor I suppose. Maybe not that grand, but as a kind of trusted advisor anyway. I loved him because I just thought he was prodigiously talented and kind of underestimated. And he was, again, one of those people who is his own worst enemy, for example he signed to a major record company and then he spent all the advance in two weeks on drink and staying at The Dorchester. But that's the kind of guy he was, he wasn't really a sensible chap!

IF THAT SHOW HADN'T HAPPENED, WOULD YOU STILL BE DOING THIS SHOW IN OCTOBER? WAS IT A NECESSARY STEPPING STONE?

Not necessary as such, it was because of the anniversary of 'Penthouse & Pavement' and the thirtieth anniversary of British Electric Foundation. I mean, we did that instrumental thing before the shows last year, and kind of liked the depth it gave them. The way we felt about everything at the time was almost like it was conceptual art, being in a pop group. I'd like to think that this is a way of doing it justice and putting it, not to bed, but marking the significance of it, for me and for our fans. I've never really talked about B.E.F. before, there's very little online about it, barely even a Wikipedia page about it all. It's not like I'm trying to re-launch B.E.F. or anything, it's just kind of an overview. The thought was, when we were arranging this, I was asked if we could consider touring it, but considering the efforts that were made to get everyone together for that one night, we couldn't do a tour with that number of people! We might be able to do a cut down version of it, maybe three or four artists, but it's not something that occurred to me to be honest! I was talking to Glen about it though. and he said maybe the way to do it is kind of build it into the Heaven 17 show and have B.E.F. as a separate section in the show, I quite like that idea. That would work.

SO YOU MENTIONED EARLIER SOME OF THE ARTISTS YOU WANTED TO GET AND COULDN'T QUITE GET FOR THE BEF SHOW, WHO HAVE YOU GOT? WHO WILL PEOPLE BE ABLE TO SEE?

OK, Shingai Shoniwa from the Noisettes, which is fantastic, Elly Jackson from La Roux, Midge Ure, Boy George, Polly Scattergood, Billy Godfrey who's our main backing singer, then there's Kim Wilde who's just brilliant – she's already done a fantastic new version of 'Every Time I See You I Go Wild' by J. J. Barnes for the 'Dark' album, it's really, really good - and she'll be doing 'Keep Me Hanging On'. Glenn of course. There's Green Gartside, and it's well-documented what I think about him, he's the only genius I've ever met in the music industry… I adore the way his musical mind works. I think the only person I've met who I accord the same respect to is Trevor Horn, but from a different perspective.

SO THE PEOPLE, YOU'VE MENTIONED A FEW PEOPLE LIKE GLENN AND GREEN AND SANDIE SHAW, THEY'VE BEEN ON THE FIRST TWO 'MUSIC OF QUALITY AND DISTINCTION' ALBUMS, WILL THEY BE PERFORMING THE TRACKS THAT WE KNOW THEM FOR, OR WILL YOU BE SWAPPING THEM AROUND A BIT?

No Glenn will be performing 'Wichita Lineman' and Sandie will be doing 'Anyone Who Had A Heart'. The idea is to do one track from the past and one from the future, although Glen might be the exception because I think he's going to do 'Perfect Day' and 'Wichita Lineman'. Green is going to be doing 'I Don't Know Why I Love You' the Stevie Wonder tune that he did for B.E.F. I know Midge is doing 'The Secret Life of Arabia' in place of Billy and he might even be doing 'It's Over' which Billy did as well. Polly's doing 'The Look of Love' and I did tell her she was going to be doing 'These Boots Are Made for Walking' but actually I'm not sure now, I think Boy George wants to do that because he's apparently done it in the past and he likes it! So I think I might let him do that and Polly can do something else. And then… who else haven't I mentioned? Elly Jackson, she's doing 'Free' which is another one done by Billy, it's really for a soprano voice I think, that's the old track, and then the new one I think that's gonna be – she's obsessed with 'Just One Look' by Doris Troy. I mean I like it, I just can't think of a dark way of doing it! Glenn's going to be doing (singing) 'When I was 17 it was a very good year, it was a very good year' and we're going to be doing that kind of shifting soundscape of different era's which I quite like, electronically. I've enlisted the help of some people to help me do some of the backing tracks. We've got Brian Duffy from Modified Toy Orchestra, who's also got a System 100 - he's done the backing track for the Kim Wilde track by the way - and then there's John Wesley Barker who did the strings on 'The Luxury Gap', he's doing the string arrangement, and he's going to do a version of 'I Want To Be Your Dog'. I don't know if it will be done on the night, but I was hoping Siouxsie was going to do it. I'll have to ask somebody else, someone will step up...

The reason I am going into such detail by the way, is because I think it's a good idea to let people know the kind of things that in for. I thought about it, I thought, would it be good to keep it all secret and I thought, yeah, there's a nice thing about that. But also, it's nice to draw other people in and go 'Oh I'd like to hear that'.

THE IDEA OF THE CONCERT IS TO PLAY MUSIC FROM ALL THREE ALBUMS ISN'T IT? THE FIRST TWO THAT PEOPLE KNOW AND THE NEW ONE THAT PEOPLE DON'T KNOW YET.

Yeah, exactly.

AND SO CAN WE ASSUME THAT THE ARTISTS WHO AREN'T ON THE FIRST TWO ALBUMS WHO ARE PERFORMING ARE ALL INVOLVED IN THE THIRD ALBUM?

Yes, and a couple that aren't, like Andy Bell who can't be at the Roundhouse because he's on tour with Erasure, and Siouxsie Sioux I hope… and there's still time for people to emerge out of the woodwork! We originally intended to release the album at the same time, but it was always a bit of wishful thinking, it was never going to happen. To do it properly it's just going to take a bit of time so we're going to release it in the New Year, but there will be a B.E.F. remastered set coming out this year. It's going to be a three CD set, which is going to be really exciting. CD one and two are going to be 'Music of Quality & Distinction' 1 and 2 with bonus tracks previously unheard from those two periods. So like eighty minutes each. Then CD three is going to be 'Music For Stowaways' plus the extra track from 'Music For Listening To' plus some backing tracks that I found in our archives with some new vocalists on from B.E.F. 2 but which wouldn't fit on that album, and also three 'work in progress' mixes from 'Dark'. So basically it bridges 1981 to 2011!

HOW BRILLIANT TO HAVE ALL THAT IN THE ARCHIVES TO PULL FROM.

It's taken us a lot of searching and unfortunately the original multi tracks from the first B.E.F. album have disappeared. I was going to actually remix the first BEF album, to be honest it would sound so much better now… I didn't really know what I was doing then to be honest! But now I'm sure I could make it sound less 'tinny' and less 'wet'... it does because back then I was obsessed with Phil Spector and his wall of sound!

SO THE NEW ALBUM, HOW DO YOU DECIDE WHAT GOES ON? IS IT YOU SAYING TO PEOPLE I'D LIKE YOU TO DO THIS TRACK OR ARE YOU JUST APPROACHING PEOPLE YOU'D BE INTERESTED TO WORK WITH AND ASKING WHAT COULD YOU DO?

A mixture really. I've got a long list of potential tracks that I thought might work, which is about thirty songs long. Just to give people a starting point because I know how little time most people have got and how little attention span they have if they're anything like me! The idea was to take some of the work out of it for them, so they could choose from the list or choose something completely different. For instance Boy George has chosen a track - which I'm not going to divulge actually - which he particularly wanted to do which was on the list and then I've actually started working on a bunch of tracks that haven't even got a home yet and may never get a home, like 'The Night' by Frankie Valli, I love that song. The lyrics, if you think about the lyrics of that song, that is the perfect template for the 'Dark' album. If you strip away the backing track, maybe slow it down a bit, and add a bit of a soundscape thing, you have got a very dark song. That's exactly the kind of template that I was hoping to achieve with a lot of these tracks.

IT'S PREDOMINANTLY AN ELECTRONIC ALBUM ISN'T IT?

Yeah, it's pretty electronic. I mean, there's a bit of guitar here and there, but it's all processed. It ranges from completely electronic and minimalist like System 100 stuff to kind of soundtracks I suppose.

SOMETHING YOU TOUCHED ON WAS ILLUSTRIOUS COMPANY, THAT'S THE 3-D SOUND SIDE OF THE SHOWS ISN'T IT? SO WHAT CAN WE EXPECT FROM THAT?

The 3-D part is only the Heaven 17 show. I did think about doing it for the B.E.F. show, but two things put me off, one - I thought it might be just too much, it's such a rich cake anyway, I don't think it needs any stuff added to it. And two - I was trying to cut down on the amount of extra work I was making for myself. It's quite a lot of work doing this, we've got to programme the Heaven 17 night, and then programme it all again in 3-D, it's a lot of stuff. So I thought that if I was still working on stuff on the BEF album up to a couple of weeks before, I don't want the added pressure of having to get twenty or so tracks ready for 3-D, I really don't need that, I'm already losing sleep!

IS THE WHOLE 3-D THING SOMETHING YOU'VE DONE BEFORE FOR CONCERTS? I KNOW YOU DO QUITE A LOT OF ART INSTALLATIONS AND THINGS DON'T YOU?

It's never been used for a rock concert ever. I've done 3-D DJ sets with huge rigs outdoors and I did it at Fabric, but I've never done a live gig with 3-D sound, and I don't know of anybody who's ever done a gig in 3-D sound. There's been quadraphonic stuff, like Pink Floyd did originally, and I think Underworld did some quadraphonic stuff as well. In fact we talked to Underworld about them using our technology a couple of years ago but it never came to anything, so this is the first! I can't think of a better place to do it than The Roundhouse, it was always the perfect place to do it as far as I was concerned so it was kind of like a no-brainer for us. People will be astonished, I guarantee it!

SO THAT'S AT 'THE LUXURY GAP' CONCERT WHICH IS THE NIGHT BEFORE THE B.E.F. CONCERT ISN'T IT? WILL 'THE LUXURY GAP' SHOW BE SOMETHING YOU'LL TAKE OUT ON TOUR?

Yes, we'll definitely be doing that, probably in autumn next year in the UK but we're going to do it before that in Europe. It's all very weird the world of live music. It's not my doing, it's kind of advice we've been taking from various agents and various territories because we did that big 'Penthouse & Pavement' tour, and apparently you need to leave a year to eighteen months in between tours, that's what they're recommending anyway, so we're going with it. But this is certainly going to be the only one in 3-D, we're not going to do 3-D at any of the other shows.

ARE THERE OTHER THINGS GOING ON THAT I MIGHT NOT KNOW ABOUT THAT ARE WORTH THROWING IN?

Yeah, I'm still in the process of getting the packaging together for a new 10-CD retrospective Illustrious box set which is going to be on Mute and will be called 'House of Illustrious'. We're determined to get the right packaging, because I think the packaging is what will sell it, otherwise people might as well just download it.

SOMEONE MENTIONED SOMETHING ABOUT A PERSPEX BRICK...

Yes, it's going to be quite beautiful. A perspex brick! (laughs) It was originally an idea we had to encase the CDs in an unbreakable perspex brick so people couldn't get to it, and then have the whole content on a tiny chip, I thought it would make quite a nice 'objet d'art'. And the fact is that all the collectors never open the packages anyway. But it turned out to be too expensive. I'm not sure what the plan is for release date for that but everything's ready, we've just got to get the packaging right. So that's eight CDs of music that's never been heard apart from the original installations, plus 'Pretentious' and 'Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle'. Ten years of work and eight hours worth of new concept which is quite something. I'm thrilled! Actually I'd like to put it all out, you know? This is cut down from probably thirty hours, but a lot of it we'd have had problems with because it incorporates other people's soundboards and that's too much trouble to clear for use!

FANTASTIC, AND I'M SURE ONCE THIS IS ALL OUT OF THE WAY THEY'LL BE LOADS MORE STUFF GOING ON?

Oh it never stops! It's like an endless conveyer belt of interesting and exciting things going on, I just wish they made a bit more money that's all. Fortunately I'm hooked on the whole excitement, that's what keeps me going. It would be nice to have a bit more money, but do you know what, I'd have to retire to spend it and I'm not really ready for that!

AUGUST 2011

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